Overland Camping in Kazakhstan

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Larger than Europe, in Kazakhstan you’re bound to cover distances. Vast, empty steppes can be monotonous but also allow you to wild camp pretty much anywhere and deploy the rooftop tent (although with the fierce wind you may prefer sleeping in your overland vehicle).

The truly beautiful spots for Kazakhstan, however, are elsewhere – beyond the steppe. Wild camping in the region around Almaty is gorgeous with all those mountainous landscapes, but our favorite region thus far is the Mangystau Region in the southwestern corner of Kazakhstan.

If you’re coming to Kazakhstan from Azerbaijan, don’t just blast through the region. Get away from the aspahlt and camp in what I would call among the most amazing landscapes in Central Asia.

Read More: Why we Love our a Rooftop-Tent – the Pros & Cons

Overland camping in Kazakhstan
Mangystau Region

Yes, Kazakhstan is a perfect country for overland camping, whether that’s with a ground tent, rooftop tent, your bivvy bag, or pop-up tent.

I will add one downside: in the touristy areas (noticeably around Almaty) there is a lot of trash lying around. Truly a shame, and we hope that some kind of government policy and/or education will change this soon. We carry some extra plastic bags and simply clean up the place we want to camp and try not to be bothered by it too much.

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In this blog post we share our favorite campsites. These photos will give you a sense of magic that you will feel when traveling here and are meant as an inspiration.

By no means let our blog post limit you as to where to camp. Kazakhstan offers plenty of spaces, everywhere, and it’s part of a great overland trip to go and find your own favorite camping spot. So, be inspired here, use iOverlander (more on this below) as a useful back-up system, but go and have your own adventure!

Additionally I’ve added a couple of useful spots to park for the night and shared some extra information on climate (best time to visit), drinking water, toilets, and additional overland travel resources.

Let’s take a closer look!

Mangystau Region, Kazakhstan, wild camping paradise
Mangystau Region, Kazakhstan, wild camping paradise

Index for Overland Camping in Kazakhstan

In this blog post we will share the following topics:

Read More: How to Prepare your Overland Vehicle for Winter

Overland camping, inside the Land Cruiser
With extra foam walls in winter for insulation
Overlanding in Kazakhstan’s winter.

1 – Map with GPS Waypoints of our Campsites in Kazakhstan

Let there be no misunderstanding: no, you don’t have to go to these places. No, these are not by definition the best spots. In Kazakhstan you will have no problem finding your own places to camp.

As mentioned earlier, we decided to share our GPS Waypoints for travelers who would like some tips about camping spots which we enjoyed or found practical. Please note that this is always our personal experience.

2 – Favorite Spots for Wild Camping in Kazakhstan

West Kazakhstan – Tuzbair Limestone Canyon – wild camp

Why: Among the most gorgeous places we ever wild camped. Maybe we were lucky but it was dead silent – no breeze to disturb the overwhelming silence. No Wifi signal, no facilities. Just our Land Cruiser and we amidst a mind-blowing landscape.

GPS Waypoint: 44.039064, 53.158669 (alt: 120 meters, Dec ’19)

Read More: Why we Travel – The Tuzbair Salt Lake in Kazakhstan

Wild camp at Sor Tuzbair, Mangystau, Kazakhstan
Wild camp at Sor Tuzbair

West Kazakhstan – Sultan Epe – wild camp

Why: Beautiful view of a canyon and the Caspian Sea. Camped all by ourselves in the wilderness. On walking distance from the underground mosque of Sultan Epe. Drinking water from a well near the underground mosque (Locals claim it’s very healthy water).

GPS Waypoint: 44.474159, 51.023837 (alt: 160 meters, Dec ’19)

Wild camp at the gorge of Sultan Epe, Mangystau, Kazakhstan
Wild camp along the gorge of Sultan Epe.

West Kazakhstan – Valley of Balls – wild camp

Why: Gorgeous spot with a view of a high concentration of these natural balls (called ‘concretions’), and in the distance stretching the plains hemmed in by spectacular mountain walls.

GPS Waypoint: 44.323693, 51.596119 (alt: 139 meters, Dec ’19)

View of Valley of Balls, Mangystau, Kazakhstan
View of Valley of Balls

West Kazakhstan – Castle Valley – wild camp

Why: From here you have a gorgeous view of massive limestone outcrops all around you. Even better during sunset when they color dark red.

GPS Waypoint: 44.27853, 52.088476 (alt: 70 meters, Dec ’19)

Overland Camping in the Valley of Castles, Mangystau, Kazakhstan
Overland Camping in the Valley of Castles

West Kazakhstan – Dike Kokaral – lakeshore camp

Why: Flat terrain along the Aral Lake next to a sluice. Beautiful view of the lake and yellow reed beds.

GPS Waypoint: 46.101809, 60.770813 (alt: 40 meters, Dec ’19)

Dike Kokaral, Aral Lake, Kazakhstan
Dike Kokaral, Aral Lake

South Kazakhstan – Sauren City Wall – wild camp

Why: Serenity, emptiness and silence. Beautiful sunset.

GPS Waypoint: 43.515977, 67.764295 (Nov ’19)

Overland camping next to the ruins of Sauren City, Kazakhstan
Overland camping next to the ruins of Sauren City

South Kazakhstan – Aksu Zhabagly National Nature Reserve – river camp

Why: A scenic spot in the meadows with sharply pointed mountain tops lined with remnants of snow on the horizon. Shallow stream, horses grazing, shepherds passing by and open for a chat. Just a lovely spot to spend a day or two. No shade but the breeze kept the temps comfortable.

GPS Waypoint: 42.372529, 70.375158 (alt: 1439 meters, July ’22)

South Kazakhstan – Near Otrartobe – river camp

Why: Quiet, peaceful, option to swim (welcome in 40C degrees heat) The trail to get to this camp was super sandy and dusty, but we loved camping here right along the river (side arm of the Syr Darya river). Company of cows and horses, which swam across to spend the night on the other side and swam back early morning – quite a sight. Not much but enough shade from trees.

GPS Waypoint: 42.852471, 68.211894 (196 meters / July ’22)

Southeast Kazakhstan – Bartogai Lake – lakeshore camp

Why: Kolsai and Kaindy Lakes are the big attractions in the region and, therefore, packed with visitors. If you like crowds, especially during the holidays and in the weekends, go there.

If you like solitude, opt for Bartogai Lake instead. It doesn’t have the idyllic scenery of spruce trees and mountains that remind you of the Alps, but rather the rough wilderness edge typical of Kazachstan’s steppe, only this time with a few hills thrown in.

The water was good for a swim and we ended up staying two days with the odd visitor who came over to say high but we mostly had the place to ourselves.

GPS Waypoint: 43.363753, 78.519505 (alt: 1070 meters, June ’22)

Read More: Why we Travel – a Surprising Wild Camp at Bartogai

Overland Camping in Kazakhstan - Bartogai Lake (©Coen Wubbels)
Bartogai Lake

Southeast Kazakhstan – Tamgaly Tas – river camp

Why: Plenty of gorgeous places all along the fast flowing river to camp. Mosquitos, yes, but a great river to cool off in summer and we spent two pleasant nights here.

GPS Waypoint: 44.065427, 76.995225 (alt: 433 meters, July ’22)

Overland Camping in Kazakhstan - Tamgaly Tas (©Coen Wubbels)
Ili River, Tamgaly Tas

Southeast Kazakhstan – Altyn Emyl National Park – wild camp in the Aktau Mountains

Why: What a landscape, we just loved it. Bring your drone! There are picknick tables but the toilet facilities were closed. There is second camp area, a bit before you get to this end-point, which does have toilets that were open and this area also had elevated wooden platforms to pitch a ground tent.

GPS Waypoint: 43.990675, 79.240812 (alt: 570 meters, July ’22)

Overland Camping in Kazakhstan - Aktau Mountains (©Coen Wubbels)
Aktau Mountains, Altyn Emel National Park

Southeast Kazakhstan – Charyn Canyon – Temerlik Canyon river camp

Why:  It was weekend and we thought it wise to stay away from the crowds near the main entrance. We found this fantastic shady spot along the river and with the sun going down climbed up the canyon to take in the fantastic views of glowing boulders. Btw, there are more places to camp here along the river.

GPS Waypoint: 43.356423, 79.167656 (alt: 976 meters, July ’22)

Overland Camping - Temerlik Canyon, Charyn Canyon (©Coen Wubbels)
Temerlik Canyon, Charyn Canyon

Southeast Kazakhstan – Charyn Canyon – Yellow Canyon wild camp

Why:  What an amazing view of a wide open area of the canyon with flat land all around, allowing the soft-glowing light of the sunset to reach many of the sculptured landscape. In the middle of nowhere where we saw some gazelles running across the plains. Btw, you can also drive down into the canyon. To get to the far end, with a picnic/camping spot along the river, you need 4×4 – recommended place to go.

GPS Waypoint: 43.354488, 79.122203 (alt: 1050 meters, July ’22)

Central Kazakhstan – Zhezkazgan – lakeshore camp

Why: A good place as a base to explore Zhezkazgan and surroundings. You can camp anywhere around the lake, which is great for a swim. Ignore all the garbage, everywhere – it’s pretty bad although less so on the eastern side of the reservoir. Even though it was July, it wasn’t particularly hot, helped by a fierce wind. Hardly any shade.

GPS Waypoint: 47.810673, 67.696370 (alt: 356 meters / July ’22)

Central Kazakhstan – Akzhar – wild camp

Why: Unique landscape. Not evident to get there, but the sight of the colorful mountains just amazing.

GPS Waypoint: 49.225627, 66.240122 (alt: 280 meters / Aug ’22)

Central Kazakhstan – Tengiz Lake – lakeshore camp

Why: The lake is a place with such strong energy, we really enjoyed camping here. There’s no reason to specifically be at this spot, there are plenty of options all over the place but will largely depend on how high or low the water is and how close you can get to it. Salty water, too soggy along the shore to dive in. The view was gorgeous with lots of waterfowl (but no flamingos).

GPS Waypoint: 50.715644, 69.318812 (alt: 307 meters / Aug ’22)

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3 – Useful Spots for Overland Camping

Southeast Kazakhstan – Almaty – Wild Camp in a Park

Why: Practical point when staying in the city, not too far from the downtown area is this park. Popular with visitors in cool summer evenings, and I assume on weekends too, but we had some quiet nights here. 

GPS Waypoint: 43.332586, 76.986676 (alt: 681 meters, July ’22)

Overland Camping in Kazakhstan - Almaty, park (©Coen Wubbels)
Park, near downtown Almaty

South Kazakhstan – Baikonur – Roadside Restaurant Parking Lot

Why:

This is not about this specific parking lot, as the owner of the restaurant wasn’t particularly nice and the food prices were two or three times higher than anywhere else. Parking fee 500 Tenge, which is okay.

I’m mentioning this because along the highway Shymkent – Aralsk you will find more of these restaurant cum hotel cum mega parking lots-cum sometimes banya cum sometimes car repair shops.

If for nothing else, the walls around the parking lot offer good protection against the fierce (cold and/or dusty) winds from the steppe.

GPS Waypoint: 45.743055, 63.629015 (alt: 100 meters, Dec ’19)

Camping in a parking lot along the highway in Kazakhstan
The parking lots are popular with trucks.

West Kazakhstan – Aralsk – Fishing Museum Parking Lot

Why: Nothing special but a quiet/convenient place to spend the night. Public toilet around the corner, or ask at the restaurant on the corner of the main street. (We were sent away from the square with the I love Aralsk letters).

GPS Waypoint: 46.795317, 61.662364 (alt: 55 meters, Dec ’19)

Parking lot of Fishing Museum in Aralsk, Kazakhstan
Depressing place because of the weather, but works for a quiet night.

West Kazakhstan – Steppe 20 km east of Bozoy – Wild Camp

Why: This spot was a bit hidden in the dunes, which gave some protection from the fierce wind of the plains. But, of course, you can camp anywhere for the night on these empty plains.

Interested in knowing more? I wrote an article about it on Expedition Portal.

GPS Waypoint: 46.195554, 59.060247 (alt: 123 meters, Dec ’19)

Wild camping on the steppe of Kazakhstan
Wild camping on the steppe

Southeast Kazakhstan – Altyn Emyl National Park – camp at the Minburak Checkpoint

Why: Since you are not allowed to camp at the Singing Sand Dune, this is a good option. Kind ranger, and we particularly loved it for the great spring with lots of fast flowing water. A great wash-up after driving through heat with lots of sand and dust storms was more than enjoyable. The checkpoint has dedicated area to pitch a ground tent and some picknick tables. 

GPS Waypoint: 44.116331, 78.702368 (alt: 890 meters, July ’22)

Overland Camping Kazakhstan - Altyn Emel National Park (©Coen Wubbels)
Altyn Emel National Park, checkpoint Minburak

Central Kazakhstan – Nur Sultan – Nomad 4×4 Guesthouse

Why: We found it on iOverlander, and it is a convenient place to stay, whether you book a room or camp in your vehicle, when visiting the city. Having said that, the city feels very quiet and safe and camping in any of the parking lots would work too, as far as we are concerned. We paid T1000 per person and another T1000 for the car per night. Good showers, laundry machine T500 for a load of 5K. Kind people.

GPS Waypoint: 51.139610, 71.425800 (alt: 489 meters / August ’22)

downtown Nur Sultan

4 – Paid Campsites & Other Paid Accommodation

South Kazakhstan – Shymkent – Sweet Home Hostel

Why: Super kind owner, kitchen, very good showers, Wifi = good, stylish interior. The car stood outside in the street = okay.

GPS Waypoint: 42.308060, 69.644660 (Nov ’19)

Sweet Home Hostel in Shymkent, Kazakhstan
Sweet Home Hostel in Shymkent

West Kazakhstan – Aktau – Medet Hostel

Why: The Medet Hostel is a convenient place to spend the night if not wanting to camp somewhere along the coast (which would be a perfect alternative during warmer weather). This massive hostel has no atmosphere but has clean rooms with private bathrooms, Wifi in the lobby, and a shared kitchen. We paid 5000 Tenge for a room with two single beds + bathroom. Laundry 500/kilo. Supermarkets and bazaars on walking distance, as is the Caspian Sea.

GPS Waypoint: 43.638218, 51.168221 (alt: 123 meters, Dec ’19)

View from Medet Hostel, Aktau, Kazakhstan (©Coen Wubbels)
View from Medet Hostel, Aktau

Travel Guides for Kazakhstan

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5 – Staying with Locals

Couchsurfing

Couchsurfing is a great way of meeting local people. In Kazakhstan, however, we used Couchsurfing only a few times. Kazakhstan simply offers so much space for splendid wild camping that we prefer traveling in the countryside rather than staying in cities.

By the way, Couchsurfing is not necessarily a platform to stay with locals as the name implies. Locals may also offer to show you around in the city, to go for a drink, or whatever. There are two fundamental aspects of Couchsurfing: no exchange of money (all = voluntary), and it’s not a dating site.

You can find Couchsurfing here, and us under ‘Coen Wubbels’.

Other Ways to Stay with Local People

In Kazakhstan we met people in other ways as well, on the street, through 4×4 communities, and were invited by followers who found us on the website, Facebook, or Instagram. We find the people in Kazakhstan to be kind and helpful. Our homestays have been a great addition to our travels in Kazakhstan.

Read more: Couchsurfing in Russia

Local people in Kazakhstan
Invitation from local people who we met on the road.
Couchsurfing in Almaty, Kazakhstan
Couchsurfing in Almaty
View of apartment buildings in Kazakhstan
Would you like to know how people live in these apartment buildings? Find out via Couchsurfing.

6 – A Word on Climate

Our first stay in Kazakhstan was in December. We traveled on the eastern side of the country, from the Russian border down to the Kyrgyz border. It was incredibly cold, with freezing temps as low as -20C. Lots of fierce wind blowing across the steppe. Not a recommended time to do that trip (one advantage: the potholes of that incredibly bad road are filled with snow :-))

Our next visit, in 2019, was in November / December. Again winter. We decided to stay in southern Kazakhstan (Shymkent – Aral Lake – Mangystau Region). This was much more doable. We had very little snow and mostly temperatures above 0 (Celsius).

A big plus: the ground was frozen, a great preference over mud baths that may occur in some places here. It was not exactly great weather for wild camping, sitting outside around a bonfire, but doable.

I’ve been told that the best time of the year for overland travel in the Mangystau Region is April/May and for the mountainous region around Almaty it is summer.

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Hi-lift

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Overland Camping in Kazakhstan

7 – A Word on Water & Toilets

Whether tap water in cities, towns and/or villages is potable depends on whom you ask, it seems. Maybe it does depend per destination, maybe some people don’t really know. We get the impression most people drink tea rather than cold water, so the water is boiled and it doesn’t matter anyway.

In our Land Cruiser we have a watertank with filter system so normally it’s not an issue either. Due to frost we can’t use the system in winter, and buy a few five-liter bottles that we fill up wherever we can.

Whether you hike, bicycle, motorcycle, drive a car or backpack around the country, don’t buy bottled water. Bring a stainless-steel water bottle and a water filter system. There is an amazing selection of small, handy, water filter systems out there, such as MSR water filters (we use this one) or, even smaller, a Lifestraw. Or carry water purification tablets if weight and space really are a big issue (we do so on our long-distance hikes).

The environment will thank you!

As to toilets, expect long drops in little-sheltered huts in the countryside and even in towns. Bring toilet paper wherever you go. In cities there may be sit toilets but don’t flush the toilet paper; it goes in the bin.

Read more: From Water Canisters to a Water Tank & Sink (Land Cruiser Overhaul)

toilet in Kazakhstan - wooden shed in the snow(©Coen Wubbels)

8 – A Word on iOverlander

Whether wild camping or staying in hotels, iOverlander is the best overlanding resource on finding places to stay as well as other practical points for overlanders, e.g. on workshops. (You may find a number of the above-mentioned campsites on iOverlander).

iOverlander a non-profit project, started and maintained by fellow overlanders. To keep this great resource for overlanders going, you can contribute in (at least) two important ways:

  • Donate (you will find the donate button on the website).
  • Share your own experiences of camping that add value to other overlanders (camping spots or otherwise useful points).

Find iOverlander here.

Thanks!

Recommended Books on Overlanding

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9 – Additional Overland Travel Resources

Suggestions to find good travel information on Kazakhstan:

Tips, Suggestions, Contributions?

We hope you find this overview of Overland Camping in Kazakhstan useful. Do you have questions or your own experiences to add?

Feel free to do so in the comment section below. Thanks!

Sunset overland camp in Kazakhstan

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